Monthly Archives: July 2013

A New Dream Built on Resilience by Asher Miller

A new way of seeing our place within the web of life.

A new way of seeing our place within the web of life.

If you’re a lazy pessimist, times are good. After all, you don’t have to look far to see evidence that things are tough and poised to get tougher.

There’s a growing wealth chasm between the rich and, well, everyone else. Significant changes to our climate are already underway and are now largely unavoidable. Our industrial food system is having a malignant influence on people’s health and our politicians. And we are going to increasingly desperate lengths to feed our fossil fuel energy addiction. The list goes on.

And while national and international leadership are key to navigating the bumpy road ahead, thus far, that leadership is sadly wanting.

I’ll be honest—in the face of all this, I’d probably count myself among the lazy pessimists. But having kids ruined both the laziness and the pessimism. I’m sure many of you can relate.

But that doesn’t mean that we can ignore the painful reality that’s just outside the window. And if you’re anything like me, you’re wondering what can be done. One approach is to build resilient communities:

  • Resilient – because the complex economic, energy, and environmental challenges we face not only require solutions to make problems go away, but responses that recognize our vulnerabilities, build our capacities, and enable us to adapt to an increasingly unpredictable future.
  • Communities – because the future is grounded in local relationships—relationships with the ecological resources that feed and sustain us, among families and neighbors, and through the institutions we use to govern ourselves.

Thankfully, a small but growing movement of engaged citizens, community groups, businesses, and local elected officials is leading the way. These early actors have worked to reduce unbridled consumption, produce local food and energy, invest in local economies, and preserve local ecosystems. While diverse, the essence of these efforts is the same: a recognition that the world is changing and the old way of doing things no longer works.

A few months ago, my organization, Post Carbon Institute, launched a new website called ‘resilience.org’ to provide connections for concerned folks just like you and me: connections to timely information and thought-provoking essays; connections to like-minded grassroots groups and nonprofit organizations that are working to build robust, thriving communities; and connections to innovative resources and models that help us individually and collectively face these challenges head on.

Here are just few recent examples of articles and resources you can find at resilience.org:

•  A conversation with Mark Lakeman of City Repair: On the development of sustainable public places.

As part of this task we’re also publishing a series of Community Resilience Guides to capture some of the most promising and replicable of these efforts: investing in the local economy, producing community-owned renewable energy, and growing local food security.

These are uncertain, challenging times. But they are also full of opportunity. And so if you’re like me (and the thousands of other folks who visit resilience.org regularly) and feel compelled to take action, I hope you’ll get engaged in the necessary, daunting, and rewarding task of building resilience at home and in your community. It’s all-hands-on-deck!

Asher Miller is the Executive Director of Post Carbon Institute and on the board of Transition US. Visit <resilience.org> to find a resilience group near you. Source: Center for a New American Dream, March 7, 2013. <http://www.newdream.org/blog/a-new-dream-built-on-resilience&gt;

Leave a comment

Filed under Consumption, Culture, Ecological Footprint, Economy, Environment, Growth, Natural Resources, Sustainability, Wildlife

What Kind of Economy Says OK to Tar Sands Oil? by Brent Blackwelder

On Sunday, February 17, I marched in the largest climate change protest in U.S. history. About 35,000 people gathered on the Washington Monument grounds for a rally and then marched past the White House, calling on President Obama to deny permission for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline that would transport oil from Canada’s tar sands through the heart of the U.S. to the Gulf Coast.

Native Americans protest tar sands mining that destroyed their land.

Native Americans protest tar sands mining that destroyed their land.

Two of the victims of tar sands development in Alberta, Chief Jackie Thomas of the Saik’uz First Nation and Crystal Lameman of the Beaver Lake Cree First Nation, spoke of the contamination of their lands and people. Even without the pipeline, the gigantic oil extraction operation is already causing plenty of harm.

If carried to completion during the next several decades, over the objections of the indigenous people who have been stewards of this land, tar sands mining will have transformed an area the size of Florida or Wisconsin. A land teeming with fish and wildlife will have been turned into a grotesque zone of toxicity where the lakes will act as predators as they entice unsuspecting waterfowl to land in their polluted waters.

What kind of economy would find such an activity acceptable? At the very least, the economy must be making some perverse calculations to justify such devastation.

As if the direct devastation of the land and water were not enough, the utilization of tar sands oil by the U.S. and other countries means “game over” for the global climate, according to NASA scientist James Hansen. In other words, the energy-intensive extraction followed by the burning of tar sands oil will put so much carbon pollution into the atmosphere that we will enter an era of radical climate destabilization.

The exploitation is proceeding on Cree lands against their consent and in violation of the Canadian Constitution. It represents a blatant refusal to abide by Article 32 of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that says: “States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples… in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources.”

President Obama appears poised to give permission to build the pipeline and contribute to this industrial nightmare. So what can we do in the aftermath of the big protest?

The time has come to reject the premises of today’s economy, because it is not a true-cost economy, and it undermines good governance. It is an economy set up for cheaters and gamblers. It is also an economy that exploits those lacking political clout and that disrespects international law, except when it comes to trade agreements that enable polluters to enter special secret courts (see the Chevron trade case against Ecuador for one recent example).

A true-cost, sustainable economy would not countenance commercial activities like tar sands mining that are tantamount to an all-out war against the natural environment and a form of industrial genocide. The genocide is underway not because of racial hatred, but because tribal people have stood in the way of a major money-making venture. Furthermore, the indigenous people lacked political power to stop the transnational corporations from ruining their lands.

Protests of the Keystone XL pipeline should blossom into protests of our unsustainable economy.

A true-cost economy would exemplify resilience. It would be less susceptible to disruptions from speculation, violent weather events, and terrorism. Such an economy would not pursue activities that generate or are likely to generate irreversible pollution. No one has to worry about a “solar spill” or a “wind spill” ruining their drinking water.

Today’s economy, on the other hand, is permitting all sorts of damaging activities that violate the criterion of reversibility and bequeath a legacy of poison. Consider the contrast between renewable energy projects and coal mining.

If a wind farm or solar rooftop array is causing problems, it can easily be removed without leaving centuries of pollution behind. The roof or the land can be returned to other uses. In fact, wind farms are fully compatible with agricultural production around the wind turbines. One wind farm I visited near Dodge City, Kansas, consisted of 150 turbines in a 20-square-mile area, and the land requirements were just seven acres.

In contrast, coal mining in West Virginia through mountain-top removal is converting biologically diverse, forested mountains into a Martian landscape. In the words of former Congressman Ken Heckler, reclamation amounts to “putting lipstick on a corpse.” Such mining projects violate the principle of reversibility, just like tar sands oil extraction. What will be available to people in the future who want to live in and explore places like West Virginia’s formerly bountiful mountains and valleys?

Whenever concerns are raised over the destructive impacts of big extractive projects, the predicament of joblessness always comes up. But joblessness cannot be solved with the current economic strategy that allows temporary construction jobs to destroy permanent jobs and livelihoods. Big extraction projects cannot create the volume of jobs that can be had by pursuing renewable energy. In fact, the oil industry generates the fewest jobs of almost any industry in the federal government’s database.

It is time to start demanding a true-cost economy that will create diverse jobs without creating no-go zones of carcinogenic and mutagenic wastes.

Brent Blackwelder is the emeritus president of Friends of the Earth. Brent was a founder and first chairman of the board of American Rivers, our nation’s leading river conservation organization. He was also one of the founders of the Environmental Policy Institute, which merged with Friends of the Earth in 1989. He has testified in front of Congress on pressing environmental issues more than 100 times. As a leader in the effort to save rivers, Brent helped expand the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System from eight rivers in 1973 to over 250 today. He also worked to eliminate over 200 dams and other water projects that would have destroyed rivers, wetlands, wildlife and areas of special scientific value. Brent initiated campaigns to reform the World Bank and succeeded in getting Congress to enact a series of significant reforms directing the Bank and other multilateral lending institutions to pay more attention to the environment. He graduated summa cum laude from Duke University and received an M.A. in mathematics from Yale, and a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Maryland.

Source: Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy  <http://steadystate.org > Posted: 25 Feb 2013. Reprinted with permission.

Leave a comment

Filed under Economy, Energy, Environment, Ethics, Natural Resources

Happiness: Santa Monica Well-Being Study to Examine the Health and Social Connectedness of Residents by Marilyn Hempel

Santa Monica Third Street Prominade

Santa Monica Third Street Prominade

Santa Monica, California, is known for its progressive social consciousness. The Los Angeles County coastal city now wants to find out how its citizens are feeling. The City of Santa Monica has won a $1 million grant to develop an index to measure the satisfaction of residents, all in an effort to improve public policy.

Bloomberg Philanthropies, led by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, offered the ‘Mayor’s Challenge’ prize to cities to discover “innovative local solutions to national problems”. Providence, RI, took the top spot, winning $5 million to launch its ‘Providence Talks’ program, which is designed to improve the language skills of children born into low-income homes.

Houston, Chicago and Philadelphia were also named runners-up alongside Santa Monica. They too will receive a $1-million prize to kick-start projects such as a “one bin for all” recycling program and an analytics platform that will make city government more efficient.

“The competition has provided evidence that cities are really the new laboratories of democracy,” Bloomberg said.

Santa Monica will develop its happiness index over the next two years. City officials and Rand Corporation researchers propose tracking the physical health, social connectedness and community resilience of residents. Once officials pinpoint how residents are faring, they can direct money and resources where needs are greatest. The city has already completed a youth well-being study that found most students were healthy and felt safe at school.

The city of Santa Monica is not only interested in becoming more sustainable, it is already working to achieve that goal. It has had an Office of Sustainability and the Environment since 1994. Dean Kubani is director of the office and its programs.  In describing the development of a happiness index, he stated:

“Research shows that the conditions that make people happy are (among other things): strong family and community connections; positive physical and mental health; a feeling of comfort and safety in one’s surroundings; gainful and fulfilling work; and a pleasant environment to live in.

“In Santa Monica we plan to measure local wellbeing through a combination of subjective data (basically interviewing a lot of people about how they perceive their own wellbeing and the conditions that impact their wellbeing) and objective data like crime rates, public heath indicators, educational data, economic and jobs data, environmental indicators and others that address all of these various conditions and ‘happiness factors’.

“We will aggregate this into a Wellbeing Index that will inform our City Council and other community leaders on directing resources to those areas (both geographic and topical) identified by the data as wellbeing ‘gaps’.  The ultimate goal is to continually collect this data, and use it to increase the wellbeing of our community. Making more informed decisions will hopefully result in better outcomes for our residents. This is similar to the way our sustainability indicators and targets inform our decision-making process now.”

The ultimate goal is to build sustainable, resilient communities where the residents connect with each other and with nature—all within the means of nature. That way of life will help people thrive and be happy. As Dean Kubani said,  “If we can help each other along, we can sleep well at night.”

For more information, contact the City of Santa Monica, Office of Sustainability and the Environment, 200 Santa Monica Pier, Ste J, Santa Monica, CA 90401. Phone: 310-458-2213. Website: <www.sustainablesm.org>

Sustainable Santa Monica Background

On September 20, 1994 Santa Monica’s City Council adopted the city’s first Sustainable City Program to ensure that Santa Monica can continue to meet its current environmental, economic and social needs without compromising the ability of future generations to do the same. The program has evolved since its adoption and has been responsible for many positive changes in the community. In 2003, City Council adopted an expanded version of the program called the Sustainable City Plan, which was developed by a diverse group of community stakeholders and lays out far-reaching sustainability goals for the community. In 2012, Santa Monica began a comprehensive update of the Sustainable City Plan in order to lay the foundation for future sustainability successes.

Additional information is available at <www.sustainablesm.org>. If you have questions, please contact the Office of Sustainability and the Environment at: (Phone) 310-458-2213 or (Email) environment@smgov.net.

10 Guiding Principles provide the basis from which effective decisions are made.

1. The Concept of Sustainability Guides City Policy

2. Protection, Preservation, and Restoration of the Natural Environment
is a High Priority of the City

3. Environmental Quality, Economic Health and Social Equity are Mutually Dependent

4. All Decisions Have Implications to the Long-term Sustainability of Santa Monica

5. Community Awareness, Responsibility, Participation and Education are Key Elements of a Sustainable Community

6. Santa Monica Recognizes Its Linkage with the Regional, National, and Global Community

7. Those Sustainability Issues Most Important to the Community Will be Addressed First, and the Most Cost-Effective Programs and Policies Will be Selected

8. The City is Committed to Procurement Decisions which Minimize Negative Environmental and Social Impacts

9. Cross-sector Partnerships Are Necessary to Achieve Sustainable Goals

10. The Precautionary Principle Provides a Complimentary Framework to Help Guide City Decision-Makers in the Pursuit of Sustainability

Sustainable Santa Monica ~ 2012 Achievement Highlights

Resource Conservation

  • Expanding Efficiency: More than 700 water saving devices were installed in homes and businesses throughout the city.
  • Solar Success: To date, there are 377 grid connected solar projects in the city representing 2.945 megawatts of solar capacity.
  • Compost Collection: The food waste composting program kept more than 4,000,000 pounds of food waste out of the landfill.

Transportation

  • Biking is Big: Bike lanes and routes were installed on 18 miles of city streets.
  • Pedal Parking: The bike valet program parked 24,000 bikes for free at 217 community events around the city.
  • Friendly Fuels: Public electric vehicle charging stations were installed at 24 locations adding to the more than 100 EV charging stations already available at private locations.

Economic Development

  • Community Commerce: 518 businesses joined ‘Buy Local Santa Monica’ and demonstrated their commitment to our local community.
  • Local Leadership: Nineteen businesses were recognized for their exceptional commitment to sustainable practices through the ‘Green Business Certification Program’.

Environmental and Public Health

  • Diligent Disposal: Community members using the Household Hazardous Waste Programs kept nearly 250,000 lbs
  • of hazardous materials and 32,000 lbs of household batteries out of the landfill.
  • Resource Reuse: More than 64,000,000 gallons of urban runoff were harvested and treated for reuse at the Santa Monica Urban Runoff Recycling Facility.
  • Market Madness: Sales are up 5% at four thriving farmers’ markets that provide fresh, locally grown produce to nearly a million visitors each year!
  • Better Bags: Implementation of the ‘Single Use Carryout Bag Ban’ eliminated 21,000,000 plastic bags from circulation throughout the city.

Open Space and Land Use

  • Outstanding Open Space: Santa Monica’s open space system now includes 245 acres of state beach and 27 community parks.
  • Total Trees: An additional 1,384 new trees were added to the existing 34,500 public trees in Santa Monica’s urban forest.

Human Dignity

  • Homeless Help: ‘Project Homecoming’ helped 266 previously homeless individuals reunite with family and friends able to offer permanent housing and ongoing support.
  • Safe Streets: Serious crimes against persons and property dropped 4.8%.
  • Community Care: The Human Services Grants Program provided over $7,400,00 to support local family, disability, employment and homeless services.

Housing

  • Housing Hope: 101 affordable housing units were completed and construction began on an additional 354 affordable housing units.
  • Complete Communities: More than 90% of all new housing units are within a mile of a transit stop, open space and a grocery store.

Arts and Culture

  • Adding Arts: City Council approved the addition of an ‘Arts and Culture Goal Area’ in the Sustainable City Plan.
  • Creative Culture: The full spectrum of cultural, artistic and design goods and services known as the ‘Creative Sector’ employ 43% of Santa Monica residents.

Community Education and Civic Participation

  • People Participate: Nearly 9,000 people participated in the Santa Monica Festival and 20,000 people attended the AltCar and AltBuild Expos.
  • Environmental Education: More than 800 people participated in the ‘Sustainable Works Community Greening Program’.
  • Individual Input: Voter turnout in the November 2010 off-year election was 65%, exceeding the Sustainable City Plan target of 50%.

Sample of Future Goals

  • Become water self-sufficient (i.e no water from the Colorado River or northern California – only local well water, rainwater and recycled/reclaimed water) by 2020
  • Achieve 95% waste diversion from the landfill by 2030
  • Get community greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 80% below 1990 by 2050 (Santa Monica is already 14% below 1990 levels now).

1 Comment

Filed under Culture, Economy, Growth